Fiji's diabetes epidemic: Nation already exceeding WHO's predicted rate for 2030

By Cheryl Tay contact

- Last updated on GMT

Fiji has already exceeded the WHO's 2030 prediction of an 8% prevalence of diabetes in the country. ©iStock
Fiji has already exceeded the WHO's 2030 prediction of an 8% prevalence of diabetes in the country. ©iStock
Fiji has the world's highest mortality rate from diabetes, according to the latest global life expectancy rankings.

The disease is responsible for 188 of 100,000 deaths in the country, and according to its Ministry of Health, approximately 33% of Fijians are diabetic. This means Fiji has already exceeded the WHO's 2030 prediction of an 8% prevalence of diabetes in the country.

According to the WHO, diabetes has become especially common in low- to middle-income countries like Fiji over the past 30 years, and is set to become the world's seventh leading cause of death in 2030.

The organisation has also reported that the "global prevalence of diabetes among adults over 18 years of age has risen from 4.7% in 1980 to 8.5% in 2014"​, with an estimated 1.6 million deaths from diabetes in 2015 alone.

Denial, delay, and dire consequences

Project manager of charitable trust Diabetes Fiji, Viliame Qio, told Radio New Zealand that diabetics often put off seeking medical attention due to a tendency to be in denial about their own condition, resulting in more advanced diabetes-related complications by the time they visit the doctor.

In addition, many in Fiji prefer to approach traditional healers for their ailments, delaying proper medical treatment.

These factors necessitate greater community education on diabetes, Qio said, adding that major hospitals easily witness three diabetes-induced amputations in a single day primarily because of the widespread delay in seeking appropriate medical help.

Death and disability: A demoralising combination

Not only is death from diabetes at its highest rate in Fiji, the disease is also the top cause of disability in the country. Sedentary lifestyles, poor eating habits, food security issues and climate change are the main factors behind its diabetes crisis.

Health professionals in Fiji are said to be frustrated and demoralised by the situation, which is compounded by insufficient resources. They are also placing more pressure on the government to intervene.

Policy for prevention

Presently, Fiji's Ministry of Health urges people to go for regular health screenings, and warns the public of the symptoms of diabetes.

The WHO's 2016 Global Report on Diabetes​ also reported that in 2000, Fiji banned the supply of high-fat mutton flaps under the Trading Standards Act in a bid to reduce obesity and by extension, diabetes in the country.

But Fijian surgeon Jone Hawera is adamant policymakers can and should do more, as many of the complications and deaths resulting from diabetes are in fact preventable. He said that ideally, Fijians should get to a point where they are able to prevent the development of diabetes altogether.

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